An Interview with Jonathan – NetConstruct MD
Every marketer must overcome a range of different challenges, it’s a given part of any business. However, within the unrelenting and fast-paced digital environment, these challenges are also met by new technologies, evolving consumer behaviours and the pressures of an omnichannel world. We sat down with our MD, Jonathan, to discuss how digital marketing has evolved, how these changes are affecting marketers today and what businesses should be considering within their marketing strategies to support the changing needs of customers.
How have changing customer demands impacted the role of marketing in the digital world?
I think we're an impatient society. I’m thinking of myself personally and I'm not even a millennial. My first thought is “can I do it online?”. Would I pick a vendor, product or service because they offered something online where their competitors didn’t? I probably wouldn't, but I believe there are customers who will. Would a business pick a product or service because of its ability to engage them online? That may be less likely, but the trend on this is definitely upwards.
The term digital transformation is talked about a lot. This is an area that is still maturing – evidenced by the number of people who believe this means ‘let’s build a new website’. I would argue that you could go through an entire digital transformation program without ever redesigning your website. Digital transformation has a lot more to do with how your business operates digitally, for example, back-office systems and how these systems manifest on the internet, rather than just a new website. I think that's where companies should be considering how they go about business and where it makes sense to create online services and integrations.
Customers are becoming more likely to want to engage with businesses through a digital platform rather than direct, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of direct. Companies often try replacing their direct channel with a digital channel in order to save on costs, I think this is a flawed approach. But trying to create an online equivalent to offline processes is often a step in the right direction. We see situations on client projects where we are heavily constrained by their existing offline business processes. Businesses need to stop seeing the digital expression as one thing and offline expression as another thing and start seeing them as a single business. If those processes cannot be tied together in an effective way that complements offline and online, there's a good chance that one of those channels is going to fail.
I don’t believe that marketers also need to become business analysts now – as if they didn’t already have enough to do. But they do need to be able to collaborate effectively with others within the business for digital projects to truly succeed and bring genuine ROI.
Is the website still king or do businesses need to have an omnichannel delivery strategy for their marketing messages?
If you're an online only company with a single product and a pretty narrow focus, of course the website will be your primary channel and everything else is promotional activity to get users to that website. But, for many brands, business is not conducted online and may never get conducted online. However, for any business that is non-transactional, the need to have a website is still there. It’s a very convenient central repository for information regarding products, services, next steps, contact information and everything else. But the reality is, a website is just one part of a wider marketing strategy. If a company is building their website in isolation to the rest of their marketing strategy, they are probably building something that is far less likely to succeed or generate the results they want. It must be a coordinated approach.
As for omnichannel, people have talked a lot about this in recent years. For me, it's just a marketing buzzword as it's only ever been an omnichannel world. Good marketing is about having a consistent message for the appropriate target audience across all channels, not just through a website. Email, offline, TV, radio, newsprint…it all needs to be considered and it all still has relevance within the marketing ecosystem. A website can solve many business problems well, but it can’t solve all problems. Perhaps the website is the centrepiece for many organisations, however, it doesn't have to be and probably shouldn't be in some sectors.
What are the biggest challenges facing digital marketers today and what would your recommendations be to overcome these?
I believe the biggest challenges facing marketers today is how to demonstrate ROI. Tracking conversions and user journeys in an omnichannel world is extremely tricky and this can put pressure on marketers to choose an inferior marketing strategy in order to achieve superior reporting capability.
This probably stems back to the financial crisis of 2007/2008 when marketing budgets were very tight, and marketers had to justify their existence. Proving ROI can be hard, but the problem is, marketing has never been a purely analytical service. Although I do think this has had a massive benefit and has led marketers to become more commercially minded, it has created adverse effects too. Marketers have been encouraged to pick marketing strategies that can be measured rather than marketing strategies that are best for the business. Getting the right balance of measurable vs. indirectly measurable marketing activities is a massive challenge.
In my opinion, complexity is the second big challenge facing marketers today. For example, they must understand online and offline channels. Many organisations split these roles causing further challenges in the coordination of activity. Another challenge marketers face is that they’re expected to be far more technical than they once were. I've seen many articles and blog posts encouraging things like “Training Marketers in How to Write SQL Queries”, which in my mind, is the domain of developers and business analysts, not marketers.
There are now these pressures of commercial awareness and the proliferation of channels. There’s the pressure to be present in every channel, particularly in social, and to generate enough good content for those channels. We see a lot of poorly generated content that's clearly being pushed out in a hurry to satisfy the fact that there is a web page, a Twitter feed, a Facebook, a LinkedIn account, an Instagram, an offline, an email marketing campaign and so forth. This creates a challenge in itself as too much emphasis has been placed on the delivery mechanism and not enough on the delivery. It’s fundamental to produce high quality, relevant content rather than using the scattergun approach of going for quantity over quality.
What I will say is I think GDPR, although a real pain in the initial instance for marketers, has been massively positive as it restricts the ability to take a scattergun approach. I think marketers within Europe are almost forced to take a quality over quantity process because of the limited and higher quality data they now have to work with compared to before.
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